Break featured in Sunday Times Best Companies list 2018
Regional children, young people and family's charity Break features in the Sunday Times Best Companies List, ranking number 15 in the Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to work for. The list, which features not for profit organisations from across the UK, recognises the charity’s commitment to personal development, family friendly working and a culture of celebrating the achievements of the young people and families it supports.
Scoring highly in the following areas, my manager, personal growth and my team, Break has also achieved 2 star accreditation for outstanding levels of workplace engagement. The charity works in a number of different areas including services for children in care, young people leaving care, children and young people with disabilities and families who need support.
The Best Companies List is based on a series of employee engagement surveys and captures how people genuinely feel about working for their organisations.
82% agreed that Break offer staff a comprehensive training plan with a range of mandatory and developmental programmes available. Break has its own accreditation centre to deliver work-based qualifications at levels 3 and 5 enabling personal growth for staff.
Break works hard to ensure that employees have a positive work/life balance and that consideration is given to colleague’s wellbeing in recognition of the challenging nature of some of the work. In the survey, 92% agreed that their team is fun to work with.
Break is run on strong values where employees have a clear sense of purpose and understanding of the direct impact their work will have on the children, young people and families they support. In 2018, the charity celebrates 50 years of changing young lives.
Hilary Richards, CEO of Break says, “This is a great achievement for our staff who work hard to create a great working environment. Break strives to provide staff with benefits to enhance their working and home life including flexible working and school hour contracts. It also shows our workforce are motivated by our overall ethos, to support vulnerable children, young people and families.”
Member News: The Foster Care Co-operative "A model of how to be authentic as a non-profit: values, purpose and the work of the Foster Care Co-operative"
I had the pleasure recently to visit the Foster Care Co-operative, whose head office is based in Malvern, and which is a vibrant and successful non-profit brimming with purpose and values.
The co-op was set up in 1999 by Laurie Gregory after 30 years working with local authorities as a senior social worker and finishing as a Deputy Director of Children’s Services. Over that time, he also had personal experience of fostering, looking after a child with disabilities for 13 years. He saw the need to offer an alternative to private and venture capital funded agencies as foster care was increasingly outsourced to the market.
“I instinctively did not wish to start a ‘for profit’ company and, after meetings with my Chamber of Commerce and invaluable advice from Co-operatives UK, I chose the model of a multi-stakeholder co-op” he explained. “We have grown slowly by bringing new people to fostering.”
The staff are unionised with the GMB, and it is a stable and happy team; it was a pleasure to meet. There is a sense of dignity across the work, in the central team, across the foster carers and in their contact with the children who are looked after.
More widely, foster care is in difficult times. The contracting model of the outsourced market focuses less on the issue – the development of young people – and more on the management of the issue. With pressures on budgets, one of the challenges that commissioners face is matching cost and quality. The shift to look for the lowest cost, scoring less for quality can then generate other costs and unintended consequences, including worse outcomes for looked after children (an added challenge is the tendency of local authority commissioners to take an annualised view of budgets rather than look further out, planning more effectively over the years that a child might be with a foster carer).
“I have been to meetings where commissioners talk of unit costs, or annual unit costs. Call them children please, I say” comments the co-op’s Director, Ian Brazier.
In the current market, with a cut down model, national agencies are dominant – structured and financed through loans via Luxembourg to cut taxes, with taxable profits lost in the repayment of loans to the same owners. It was to understand the costs of a quality service that has been at the heart of a recent government stocktake of fostering (in England) – the Foster Care Co-operative was one of a handful of agencies to share data on an open book basis, to help them do that.
The co-op has contracts with 54 local authorities, but it refuses to bid for contracts that are set up to deliver a quality that is lower than the values of the co-op would countenance.
An example is the dedicated resource the coop employs to support foster carers with education and schooling for the children. One young person said: “The support my brother received from our carers has resulted in him going to university. After visiting him there, I think going to university is something I would like to experience too.”
The two outstanding indicators of the co-op’s success are the length of time spent with a carer and the outcomes in terms of what children go on to do when they reach adulthood. The average for a placement nationally is just four to six months. With the Foster Care Co-operative, the average is three and a half years. And every child that has left the co-op in recent years has gone on into work or education.
While foster care has to be seen as a later stage of support for children, stepping in where families can’t cope, the power of co-operation still makes a difference. The co-op is collaborating with other non-profits in the sector, working on the basis of shared values, and has launched a successful training programme in a joint venture with increasing take-up, to spread good practice. It is also piloting, with the local university, a programme to bring in foster carers with disabilities into the sector – a great potential example of asset-based social care.
The Foster Care Co-operative is an authentic non-profit, led by values and shaped by the participation of those involved across what is a vital service for young people in need.
On Saturday there was a detailed article in The Times about kinship carers (behind a paywall) - relatives who care for children that are not their own, usually because their parents aren’t able to care for them. The article highlighted the incredible role that kinship carers play in the lives of tens of thousands of children and young people, as well as some of the major issues facing this group of carers, especially regarding woeful under-resourcing. This is absolutely a subject that deserves national attention and we applaud Louise Tickle, the journalist, for raising such an important topic in a national newspaper.
However, we are dismayed that to emphasise the lack of support facing kinship carers, the article chooses to denigrate the role of fostering and foster carers. The headline ‘The kinship carers who save relatives from being fostered’ sets the tone. Fostering is not something that children and young people need saving from. Foster families offer safe, secure, nurturing homes with the focus of foster carers being on helping the young people in their care to have fulfilling childhoods, to have high aspirations and to have every chance of meeting them.
The introduction to the article says that children entering the care system face a ‘stark choice: either go into a foster home or be looked after by a relative.’ This sort of language paints a negative picture of foster carer which is far from reality. Good foster care transforms lives and enables young people to thrive. The vast majority of young people in care are living with foster families who love them and provide the stability and support that will see them grow into confident adults.
Rather than setting up a false conflict between kinship care and foster care (indeed many foster carers are related to the children they look after), we would prefer to see the benefits of both extolled and for it to be recognised that what is important is finding the best possible setting to enable each child to be safe and to reach their full potential – for many this may well be with relatives, but for others the most appropriate setting may be with foster carers who can provide a caring, family environment along with other therapeutic input that these children so desperately need.
Young People at Heart will be opening an office in Yorkshire in May 2018!
Following the success of the Essex and Herefordshire offices, Young People at Heart have decided to open an office in Barnsley, Yorkshire. Sue Williams, an experienced and well respected Registered Manager in the region will lead the office, which is currently applying for its own Ofsted registration, and will initially support foster carers and young people in the wider Barnsley, Doncaster, Leeds and Sheffield areas.
Gary Cox, Founder of Young People at Heart, said the not-for-profit and family ethos of the organsiation had found favour with Local Authorities and foster carers in the areas where Young People Heart was established and it was now time to offer the organsiation’s services, and ethos of putting young people before profit, in the Yorkshire area. Gary said that with Sue’s reputation for providing an outstanding service, he was confident Young People at Heart would soon start to achieve great outcomes for young people in care in Yorkshire.
If you would like to be a foster carer with Young People at Heart, whether you are new to fostering or you are an existing foster carer with or without a young person in placement, please get in touch with us via the ‘contact us’ form on this website, or call us and we’ll happily to talk to you about joining the Young People at Heart family.
Joy – TACT Foster Carer since 2012
My fostering journey started six years ago. I was working as a manager in a fast food restaurant and the company offered staff the opportunity to be seconded to work on a community project of our choice. I decided to work in a pupil referral unit which is for children who are not able to attend mainstream schools due to ill health or behavioural problems. The experience taught me how important strong and stable foundations are for children, and it provoked a desire to help more. One day I was driving to work and a TACT advert came up on the radio. It was like a sign was sent to me. I wrote down their number, gave them a call and started the application process.
The application process took eight months and I found it as thorough as it should be. In the meantime, I completed a teaching assistant course as I expected that children put into my care might need educational support and I wanted to be able to provide it.
When I finally heard I was about to have my first placement, I was over the moon. Two little siblings aged two and five stayed with me for nearly three weeks for a respite placement. I thought they were fantastic but I decided I didn’t want a respite again, I wanted a permanent placement. The children returned to their carers on Friday. On the Monday morning I went back on the register, and by teatime two wonderful children called Elisha, now aged 11, and Ethan now 9, walked into my life. They have been with me for nearly six years and are probably not leaving until they go off to university.
Elisha and Ethan are absolutely wonderful; they achieve everything they put their mind to and I am always 100% behind them. Ethan is two whole years above his age in school, while Elisha is in the last year of primary school but she is doing second year level Maths at a comprehensive school. They are both musically gifted – Ethan plays the cornet, piano and drums, while Elisha plays violin, trumpet and piano and they are both in a youth orchestra. They are also keen mountain walkers – together we have already climbed all the Welsh peaks. Last year we climbed Mount Snowdon and raised over £1100 for TACT, and we are getting ready to climb Ben Nevis this July.
They came to care due to severe neglect and abuse. I believe many siblings in care have learnt to rely on each other due to what they have been through and it would be difficult to separate them. Being together definitely helps Ethan and Elisha to grow.
I am a single foster carer but I have a great support network of my partner and my birth children. They are grown up and left home years ago, but they love to come back and spend time with Ethan and Elisha whom they call their brother and sister. In addition, I always have outstanding support from TACT.
I love everything about fostering. I love being able to help a child and I love the challenges. If anybody ever thinks about fostering, don’t think, do it. If your heart is in it, you can’t go wrong.
While growing up our siblings were just as important to us as our parents, so we understand the need for siblings in care to stay together
My husband Rob and I started to consider fostering once our youngest daughter turned 18. We thought caring for children comes naturally for us and we felt we had done a good job with our three girls. We also have a lovely home, an amazing family and all together a lot to offer.
We looked at different agencies and chose TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) because we liked the fact they’re a charity.
The application process took nine months, less than we expected. It was intense, but we understood the reasons for that. We were approved as foster carers in May 2011. Two weeks later we received a phone call about an emergency placement – two little brothers aged two and five. It was quite a shock, but we decided to go ahead, and rushed home from work so we can greet the boys. We were very nervous but within hours it just felt right. What was supposed to be an emergency placement lasted two and a half years. The boys were brilliant. We really felt like we had made positive changes for them and they did the same for us. When they moved on to a different placement we found the separation very difficult at first, but we still keep in touch and we know they are doing really well.
Since then, we have fostered nine other children including two sibling groups. My husband Rob is the youngest of 13 children and I am the youngest of 5, and we both believe that while growing up our siblings were just as important to us as our parents, so we understand the need for siblings in care to stay together. We are currently fostering a girl aged 11 and her 13 year-old twin brothers. When they came to us four months ago the boys wouldn’t say a word. Instead, their much more confident sister would speak on their behalf. Having the support of each other helped them settle in with us quickly. The boys are still quite shy, but they are much more social and we love to see them laughing and playing together. We often have fun days out and we encourage them to be active. As a result, the boys recently got into fitness and the girl is really into street dancing. We also encouraged our foster daughter to apply for the Blue Peter badge. Her stories were so good that a video clip was shown on the programme. We were all so delighted.
To us, fostering is a way of life rather than a job. We have so many precious memories with all our foster children, such as the first goal our foster son scored when he played football for a local team, teaching two foster children to ride a bike while away on a caravan holiday and many more.
Of course, fostering can be demanding at times, we are human after all, and we do get frustrated sometimes. However, TACT is always there to offer guidance, even in the middle of the night on bank holiday. And no matter the challenges that come with fostering, the rewards far outweigh them.
People who give up work to raise child relatives report benefit caps, evictions and sanctions
Family carers who agree to give up work to become full-time “parents” to the children of relatives, in order to prevent them being taken into care, are being left penniless and homeless by welfare changes, campaigners say.
Kinship carers, hailed by ministers as “”, are typically grandparents, aunts or older siblings who step in voluntarily to bring up child relatives after the birth parent dies or is unable to continue because of illness or neglect.
A new survey of their experiences, seen by the Guardian, shows that many are frustrated at their lack of reward for “doing the right thing”.
Several report giving up secure jobs after being warned by social services that if they did not become a full-time carer, the child would be put up for adoption. Having complied, they were often left reliant on a benefit system that punished them for not working.
One in 10 respondents had their benefit capped, losing in some cases more than £100 a month, or were forced to move home. Others were sanctioned, having their benefits stopped for at least four weeks, for failing to search for jobs.
A similar proportion were forced to pay the so-called bedroom tax after moving to a bigger rented home on the advice of social services. In one case, a council’s housing officers advised a carer to move to a smaller property to avoid the bedroom tax, while its social workers insisted she keep the extra room.
A handful of kinship carers have lost thousands of pounds because of the two-child benefit limit, introduced in April, which restricts child tax credits to the first two children in a household. This affects younger carers who voluntarily parent two or more siblings, who are denied social security entitlements when they have a child of their own.
One woman, who was 18 when she became carer to her two teenage siblings 10 years ago, said: “It just seems that when you do the right thing by becoming a kinship carer, you will end up being stuck and penalised for doing something purely out of love.”
The survey of 517 kinship carers, carried out by the charities Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus, found that nearly half had given up work and a quarter had reduced their hours, while nine out of 10 had endured financial hardship. Many had spent all their savings, or been forced into debt or rent arrears. Several said they had been evicted.
Campaigners have called for kinship carers to receive the same rights and allowances as foster carers and adoptive parents, including paid employment leave while the child is settling in. They also want kinship carers to be exempt from the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the two-child benefits limit.
Ministers promised to exempt kinship carers from the two-child policy after a humiliating defeat over the issue in the House of Lords two years ago, following concern that it would deter potential carers from coming forward. However, it has emerged that the exemption only applies to carers who have birth children first and then become guardian to a third child – not the other way around.
The majority of the surveyed carers were bringing up children who had suffered neglect or abuse by birth parents who were often mentally ill or substance misusers. One in 20 had taken in child relatives whose parents had died. A quarter of the carers, mostly women, were already raising their own children.
In many cases the children had high support needs, including physical disabilities, mental illness, attachment disorder and emotional or behavioural difficulties. Several respondents said they were ill-prepared for the demands of caring, struggled with the extra costs and were denied support by local authorities.
An estimated 200,000 children in the UK are raised by kinship carers, saving the taxpayer billions that might otherwise be spent on foster care or children’s home fees.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of Family Rights Group, said: “Kinship carers are doing all that could be asked of them by society and more. But instead of getting the support they and the children need, many kinship carers are left in poverty, isolated and having to battle to just make ends meet, while often also caring for very traumatised children.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Every child deserves the best start in life, and that includes having a stable, nurturing home environment. Kinship carers help many children who are unable to live with their parents.
“To help with those responsibilities, they are eligible for the same benefits as birth parents, including child benefit and child tax credits. We also require local authorities to publish information on how they support children living in these circumstances.
“Anyone experiencing difficulties should contact their local authority for advice and support.”
‘I went from a very good job to living on benefits’
Jay Godfrey was a well-off professional in her 30s with no children of her own when she became a kinship carer in 2005. Her elder sister had died from cancer, leaving three teenage daughters. Without hesitation, and practically overnight, Jay stepped in.
Becoming a carer wasn’t really a choice, Godfrey says: family love and loyalty trumped all other considerations. But she was unprepared for the pressure and disruption that turned her life upside down, or for the indifference of the authorities that had encouraged her to become legal guardian to her grieving nieces.
“My partner ended up giving me an ultimatum: it’s me or the girls. I chose the children. It was difficult; I was very isolated,” says Godfrey. “I went from a very good job, earning lots of money, having three holidays a year, to living on benefits.”
Her kinship carer experience was difficult, at times traumatic, but nine years later she did it all over again, when the daughters of her youngest niece, who had suffered episodically from serious mental illness and was in a chaotic relationship, were taken into care by social services.
Social workers encouraged Godfrey to apply for special guardianship for the children. If she didn’t, they said, the girls would probably be separated and adopted and she would never see them again. “They knew family was everything for me,” Godfrey says. “They put it forward as a choice, but they knew they would get the answer they wanted.”
The girls, now aged seven and eight, have attachment disorder and separation anxiety, yet the therapeutic support offered to them has been limited, Godfrey says. She survives on housing benefit and £310 a week in special guardianship allowance. “It puts food on the table and nothing else. My parents provided every bit of clothing the girls wear.”
It is unfair, she says, that foster carers get much more support for doing the same role, and that having eagerly facilitated the guardianship, the council now seems intent on doing the bare minimum to assist her. “I feel like I am the only one who is invested in these children to ensure they have as good a life as I can offer them.”
She would never have ducked the challenge of kinship care, she says, but she wishes the situation didn’t feel so fraught and exploitative.
But amid the stress there is hope and beauty: “The two children come in from school and put their arms around me and tell me they love me, and they make my heart sing.”
Children in care are receiving less support and do not feel as safe as in previous years, a study by Ofsted has found.
The inspectorate's annual children's social care questionnaire gathered responses from 37,000 children, parents, social workers and other children's professionals between June and October last year and found that young people in care feel less safe than in previous years.
Children also told Ofsted that they feel they are receiving less help and support from their carers than in previous years.
Among children in residential care surveyed in 2017, 69 per cent said they feel safe in their children's home all of the time, compared with 70 per cent the year before.
In 2015, 24 per cent of those placed in children's homes said they feel safe most of the time, but this had fallen to 21 per cent by 2017.
This year six per cent of those in foster care said they feel safe most of the time, compared with seven per cent in 2015.
One 10-year-old respondent in residential care said: "It's scary sometimes when other children are kicking off."
Another respondent, who is in a foster home, said: "I don't feel comfortable when people I don't know visit the house because I feel unsure."
The survey also reveals that some children feel that staff or foster carers "rarely" or "never" help them if they feel upset by other people.
In 2017 nine per cent of those in children's homes and fostering said they feel they are not supported by their carers in such circumstances, compared with four per cent among those in residential care and three per cent of those in foster placements in 2016.
In addition, the survey reveals that looked-after children feel less prepared when moving into a placement than in previous years.
Among those in children's homes, 61 per cent said they had been able to find out useful things about their placement before moving in, compared with 64 per cent in 2016 and 71 per cent in 2015.
Meanwhile, less than half (45 per cent) of children in foster care were able to find out such information before their placement last year, compared with 54 per cent in 2015 and 51 per cent in 2016.
"I found out that I was moving in with (the foster carer) five hours before I moved in," a nine-year-old in foster care told Ofsted.
"No other information was provided leaving me feeling extremely scared and confused."
A 10-year-old in residential care told the inspectorate: "I would have liked to have seen the home more times before I moved in as it would of made me feel more comfortable."
However, the survey does indicate that those in foster care that go missing from their placement are far more likely to be offered the chance to speak to someone independent when they returned.
Last year 77 per cent of children in foster care said they had been offered this opportunity, compared with 66 per cent in 2016.
There was also a small rise in the proportion of children going missing from residential care who had the opportunity to speak to an independent professional on their return. In 2016 81 per cent said they had this chance, compared with 82 per cent last year.
Some children who had gone missing told Ofsted that they found it useful to talk to someone independent, such as a social worker or police officer.
One nine-year-old in residential care said: "I spoke to a police officer who made me realise I had put myself in danger. I don't want to do it again."
Although some did not feel the need to take up this opportunity, with one 16-year-old in residential care telling Ofsted that they "would rather speak to staff and not a stranger".
Children in care need more than a roof over their head and a hug. Foster carers are part of a multi-disciplinary team
It’s funny how language can change over time, often mirroring a change in opinion. It took many years for foster parents to habitually be called foster carers. At the Fostering Network we thought this a significant and positive change in language because it reflected an increased understanding of the role. The responsibility – and the complexity – of the task has grown exponentially over the four decades the network has been in existence, and the change of title was an important step in recognising this.
But following the fostering stocktake in England, that important change appears to have been undone. The civil servants I have encountered from the Department for Education over the last couple of months appear to be using the term “foster parents” as their descriptor of choice. And I’m concerned.
Foster carers play an essential parenting role in the lives of the children they are looking after, offering love, support and nurture on a daily basis. They stay awake through the night holding the hand of a poorly child, give a standing ovation when watching a school play, help with homework, bake cakes, read bedtime stories ... In short, foster carers meet the physical and emotional needs of the children in their care.
Foster carer is a job description, it explains what the role is, highlights its complexity and shows its importance. Being called a foster carer doesn’t, of course, preclude strong personal relationships (indeed they are at the very heart of being a good foster carer), fostered children being given the opportunity to be a full member of a family, or fostered children calling their carers mum and dad or aunt and uncle or Janet and Phil. Being called a foster carer and showing love and compassion are not mutually exclusive.
But foster carers are so much more than parents. Here’s just a short list of things foster carers, who are at the centre of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, do that parents usually don’t have to:
The term foster parents seems to ignore this list. By calling foster carers “foster parents”, the danger is that we revert to the old-fashioned view that all children who come into the care system need is a roof over their head and a hug.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who works with these children will know. Foster carers are experts in attachment issues relating to experiences of abuse, neglect and family separation and trauma. They provide expert input in to the life of a child, helping them overcome the trauma of their past.
Sometimes a change of language is a positive thing reflecting a change in societal thinking. My concern is that this change will lead to a further undermining of those who undertake such a vital role on behalf of our society. They deserve to be given respect for what they do and to be treated as the professionals that they are – continuing to call them foster carers is a small, but important, way to do that.
Kevin Williams is chief executive of the Fostering Network
Every year, Co-operatives UK welcome nominations for Co-operative of the Year.
As the only not-for-profit co-operative operating in foster care in the UK, we thought we would go for the Inspiring Co-operative of the Year award.
You can vote for us here. Simply click on the Inspiring Co-operative of the Year category, and give a few reasons as to why you are voting.
Nominations close on 29th April.
Thank you for your support!
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